Europe failing own water quality standards

Water is failing EU environmental standards in more than 6,000 towns and cities across Europe, putting the health of millions of people at risk and rendering taxpayers liable for fines of over €1bn (£846m) a year, new research shows.

Brussels, home to the European Commission, is among 6,311 areas which are not meeting the requirements, while capital cities where water is sub-standard include Bucharest (Romania), Sofia (Bulgaria), Madrid (Spain), Budapest (Hungary) and Rome (Italy).

Romanian MEP, Victor Bostinaru, who presented the findings at a meeting in the EU yesterday, said: “This report demonstrates the scale of the problem that exists across the 27 EU member states. The quality of water in many countries has to improve and the money needs to be found to make it happen – starting with the city of Brussels, in which the European Union’s institutions are based.

“As we prepare to commit billions of euros of investment to infrastructure projects, through the EU Cohesion Fund, we must demand improvements from these failing cities, regions and countries. Every country needs to apportion funds to meet minimum standards of water quality that we should all expect across Europe.

“Investing in better water treatment systems will safeguard public health, protect delicate ecosystems, save energy, reduce chemical use, support industry and even provide jobs,” he added.

The research also showed that some of the continent’s most popular tourist destinations are not fully compliant with EU water laws, including Pisa in Italy, Halkidiki in Greece, Balaton in Hungary and Ayia Napa in Cyprus.

However, 16 countries are currently compliant with EU water quality standards, including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The researchers examined official EU data to determine for the first time which towns and cities are failing the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, a piece of legislation which came out in the 1990s in order to improve water standards. The directive applies to the collection, treatment and discharge of domestic and industrial waste water.

The EU Cohesion Fund was set up in 1994 to provide funding for environmental and infrastructure projects. Decisions on its latest round of spending are expected within months.

Backing up the research, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a series of reports in January warning that Europe needs to intensify efforts to keep sufficient quantity and quality of fresh water to maintain the regions ecosystems.

Leigh Stringer

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